Posts Tagged ‘Top Suspense’

Boucher Con Sked and More

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2012

I am frantically working to get two Heller chapters done (I’m in the middle of the first of the two) before leaving for Bouchercon on Thursday morning.

Here’s our Bouchercon schedule:

Barb’s panel (she is the moderator) is at 9.m. Friday. It’s about geriatric crime fighters: MYSTERY MATURES.

MAC’s panel (not moderating) (also not moderate) is at 11:30 a.m., also on Friday: MANFICTION (not my fault).

No room numbers, but if you’re attending, it won’t be tough to find us.

There is a new e-book from Top Suspense, WRITING CRIME FICTION, with chapters by all the members on various topics. Mine is on writing Historical Fiction. It just came out today, so snag it:

And here’s a terrific advance review of TARGET LANCER from that fine crime writer, Bill Crider.

Check out the Big Thrill’s TARGET LANCER write-up here.

And this is a really cool, smart review of the new Mike Hammer short story, “Skin.”

Finally, this nice interview with my Hard Case editor, Charles Ardai, discusses the re-discovery of the final James M. Cain novel, the recently pubbed THE COCKTAIL WAITRESS. Charles is kind enough to mention my role in bringing this important dark novel to the light.


Breaking Elmore Leonard’s Rules

Tuesday, February 7th, 2012

Every now and then somebody puts Elmore Leonard’s ten rules of writing in a magazine column or up on a blog, and a lot of people rave about what good advice it is. The best advice I can offer writers is not to listen to advice from other writers.

Just the same, here are Leonard’s rules followed by my take on each.

1. Never open a book with weather.

An opening describing weather can create mood and atmosphere. See the first chapter of ONE LONELY NIGHT.

2. Avoid prologues.

Prologues can be effective, as for example when the first chapter takes place some years later and the prologue sets up back story. A prologue can (a) suggest a certain sweep to the narrative, and often (b) sets up something that will be paid off later.

3. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.

“Said” is the preferred verb for carrying dialogue, but an occasional specific verb – like “insisted” or “demanded,” when the dialogue itself isn’t suggestive – can break things up a little. Also, “asked” is perfectly acceptable and even preferable for dialogue that poses a question.

4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said.”

Said can be effectively aided by an adverb when the dialogue itself doesn’t convey the tone. The suggestion that the tone should be inherent in the words spoken by the character doesn’t acknowledge the variation between characters and/or the mood of a character. (“I love you,” he said hatefully. “I love you,” she said sarcastically.)

Leonard’s general dislike of adverbs takes to the extreme the common sense notion that adverbs should be used sparingly. Better to choose verbs strong enough not to require an adverb (which is why “said” sometimes is not enough). Sometimes an adverb provides just the right seasoning.

5. Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.

Exclamation points should be used sparingly, but the notion of limiting yourself in the way Leonard suggests makes little sense, unless he’s just being cute. Any story, and its needs, will determine how many exclamation points you might use. You might use none. You might use twenty.

6. Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”

“All hell broke loose” should be avoided as a cliche, but not necessarily in dialogue, because characters are allowed to use cliches in their speech, particularly as a point of characterization. While “suddenly” should be used sparingly, instances where it’s useful do turn up (“Suddenly he knew he was a fool.”).

By the way, if I dropped the adverb “sparingly” from the previous sentence, the sentence would advise the use of the word “suddenly.”

7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.

This would depend on the story and the characters therein. I think we can agree Mark Twain did all right with Huckleberry Finn.

By the way, Leonard just used an adverb again (“sparingly”).

8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.

A typical Leonard “rule” that is fine for him, because it’s part of his style and a preference he developed over years of writing (and reading). It derives chiefly from Hemingway, a writer he admires, and screenwriting, a reductive form Leonard has practiced through most of his career. You omit detailed character description in a screenplay not as an artistic choice, but because producers don’t want to limit casting possibilities.

Leonard’s notion that readers should essentially decide what a character looks like based upon dialogue and other action strikes me as absurd or even lazy – often physical characteristics are at odds with behavior. Like the description of a room, clothing reveals character. Reporting grooming, age, weight, height, and other physical aspects of characters is a vital part of the writer’s tool kit.

9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.

Again, this borders on laziness and puts onto the reader responsibilities that are rightly the author’s. Of course, “great detail” is a subjective term, and I would agree that one shouldn’t overdo. But that is according to the taste and technique of the individual writer.

10. Try to leave out the parts that readers tend to skip.

Write well and they won’t skip anything. If they have ADD, let them go to You Tube for their entertainment.

Elmore Leonard is a terrific and distinctive writer. He developed these rules for himself and no doubt means well sharing them. But you should follow his rules only if you want to write like Elmore Leonard. And there seems to be an Elmore Leonard out there already writing perfectly good Elmore Leonard novels.

I like Elmore Leonard’s writing very much. But wouldn’t the world of books be boring if everybody wrote like him?

* * *

The Top Suspense group (of which I’m a part) has a new e-book anthology out, FAVORITE KILLS. The theme is stories that were either award winners or otherwise were successful for authors. My contribution is the Quarry story, “A Matter of Principal,” which launched both the new cycle of Hard Case Crime Quarry novels and the Quarry movie “The Last Lullaby.” Read about the new anthology here.

I finished SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT last Friday (Barb and I took Saturday and Sunday off with a Chicago getaway). I say “finished,” but I will be re-reading today and tomorrow, looking typos and tweaking. Should be in Charles Ardai’s hands by Wednesday.


[Quick note from Nate: ANGEL IN BLACK is on sale for the Kindle through the end of the month. Don’t miss it!]

Heller Gets Romantic

Tuesday, June 28th, 2011

Publisher’s Weekly – where a rave review of the upcoming BYE BYE, BABY appeared recently – has just further showcased the new Heller novel with an interview with me in the current issue. Nate Heller is the “Zelig” of mystery fiction, we’re told. For a while he was the Forrest Gump of mystery fiction, but now he’s Zelig again, it would seem. Either way’s cool with me.

Romantic Times – where “Barbara Allan” has frequently received wonderful reviews and where I have never been individually reviewed (before) – has offered a splendid BYE BYE, BABY review. Check this out:

Genre: Mystery/Suspense/Thriller, Mystery, Historical

Sharp dialogue, perfect pacing, fascinating characters and the unraveling of a mystery that has always caught the public’s imagination makes for riveting fiction. This is a Hollywood novel that’s more interesting than the true story — if, in fact, it’s not what really happened anyway. Collins’ twist on this American mystery simply can’t be put down until the last page has been read.

In 1962, Marilyn Monroe is being harassed by everyone from her studio to the president and his brother, who want her to disappear almost as much as they want to bed her. Marilyn asks PI Nate Heller to tap her phone so she’ll have a record of the calls. Nate finds out she’s already being tapped — by the CIA, the FBI and the mafia. An icon whose connection to the White House makes her an object of interest for too many parties, Marilyn turns up dead not long after Nate plants the bug — by all accounts either a suicide or an accident. Nate’s not buying it and feels he owes it to her to find out what happened. (FORGE, Aug., 336 pp., $24.99)

Reviewed By: Pat Cooper

Canada’s National Post interviewed me for an article about continuing iconic characters, as I have with Mike Hammer and as Jeff Deaver is doing with James Bond. A nice little article worth checking out.

This article gives us the 13 most infamous Irish gangsters – and the first is Mickey Spillane…not Mike Hammer’s Mickey, but the real-life mob guy with whom our Mickey was frequently confused. Also include is John Looney, who likely would not have made this list without his latterdary ROAD TO PERDITION fame (which rates a mention).

The amazing Paul Bishop has been kind enough to talk up the forthcoming Heller collection, CHICAGO LIGHTNING, at his fun site, as well as the AmazonEncore reprints of the first twelve novels in the saga.

Out of the blue comes a nice little write-up on my years on the DICK TRACY strip. Two quibbles: Flattop is a ‘40s villain, not a ‘30s one; and frankly my years on the strip don’t have many naysayers that I ever heard about.

I was a little shocked, if pleasantly so, to discover this really smart and appreciative review of my 2001 security-cam feature, REAL TIME: SIEGE AT LUCAS STREET MARKET. This is worth a look.

Somebody else out there in the cyberverse has noticed my DVD collection, SHADES OF NOIR – with an emphasis on the Quarrry short film, “A Matter of Principal.” The writer has no idea a novel and film were expanded from that, but it’s a nice write-up, anyway.

Successful novelist Jonathan Maberry has gathered Scribes nominees together for a joint interview, of which I am a part.

And at the Top Suspense blog, we’re still discussing techniques of suspense, with my contribution finally getting posted.

The rave reviews of the Criterion DVD/Blu-ray of KISS ME DEADLY (often with nice mention of my documentary, MIKE HAMMER’S MICKEY SPILLANE, a special feature on the disc) keep rolling in.

This KISS ME DEADLY review has lots of information but opinions that seem questionable (though the guy likes my documentary, so he’s not all bad).

And here’s another KISS ME DEADLY review.

And another.

And another – one of the most interesting.

Finally, please check out Ed Gorman’s coverage at his blog of the passing of the great Marty Greenberg. My comments about him as an editor and man are included. If you have been a reader of mystery and/or science-fiction short stories in the past four decades or so, you have been touched by this wonderful man.


Nate Heller Finished?!?!

Tuesday, June 21st, 2011

Big news this week is that I have completed the new Heller, TARGET LANCER, dealing with the JFK assassination in an entirely new way. It was finished last week, and I spent the weekend tweaking it before shipping it this morning. The title refers to the code name the Secret Service gave JFK. There will undoubtedly be revisions and I am sending my research associate George Hagenauer a copy to check for Chicago inaccuracies. But I admit to feeling a huge weight is off my shoulders.

True Detective

Be sure to check out the Amazon listings of the Nathan Heller reprint series. All of them are going for around $10 on pre-order, including the new short story collection, CHICAGO LIGHTNING.

Our illo this week is the new cover for TRUE DETECTIVE, though I believe it may change somewhat. There are possible issues over the Frank Nitti image. But this will give you the idea of the design flavor. I’ve been working closely with AmazonEncore on developing this look – after my dissatisfaction with so many other covers of mine, cooperation/collaboration like this is a real treat.

Over at the Top Suspense blog, we are starting an ongoing conversation on the writing of crime fiction. I have a posting later this week, but check out the conversation from the very start here.

The KISS HER GOODBYE reviews keep coming, and here’s a fun one.

And Audiofile weighs in favorably on Stacy Keach’s wonderful reading of KISS HER GOODBYE.

At the Tor/Forge blog, they are bragging about that starred review BYE BYE, BABY got last week from PUBLISHER’S WEEKLY. I was interviewed by PW a few weeks ago, but it hasn’t appeared yet.

The KISS ME DEADLY Blu-ray is getting rave reviews. ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY gave it a B+, mentioning the special features as a major plus, and even listed it on their front-of-the-mag MUST LIST. On the web the reviews of this great release are everywhere, and here is a nice example, and another one.

KISS HER GOODBYE has made several of these “Page-Turner” lists, apparently for so-called beach books. Here’s one of them. The overwhelmingly favorable response to the new Mike Hammer novel has been colored by frequent apologies from reviewers, most hilariously represented by the A/V Club review. Nobody apologizes for liking James Bond or Batman or Tarzan, but Hammer still seems to be a guilty pleasure. I don’t really care, as long as I’m able to get these books out there. Many reviewers assume I’m working from plot notes at this point, no matter how many times I state that Mickey left behind substantial manuscripts on six Hammer novels (not to mention DEAD STREET and the forthcoming Morgan the Raider sequel, THE DELTA FACTOR). So far, I have been working from fragments around 100 pages long or more. Usually there are plot and character notes, but not always. CONSUMMATA was around 100 double-spaced pages, without plot and character notes, though I had THE DELTA FACTOR to guide me.